Singers born in India or those of Indian descent are some of the most popular and influential artists to ever grace a stage. From pop and rock and roll to jazz, Indian singers have been successful across all music genres. In addition, some have built successful careers as playback singers who provide vocals for films.
Read on to learn more about 15 of the greatest and most famous Indian singers, many of whom gained worldwide renown and topped various charts. You’re sure to find a style of music you enjoy among these popular musical artists.
1. Freddie Mercury
Though Mercury was born in Zanzibar, a small island off Tanzania’s coast, to Parsi-Indian parents, he spent majority of his childhood in India. As a child, he was already a talented singer, and he went on to be a legendary musician like none other.
Mercury had a four-octave range, and with Queen, he released 15 studio albums and 73 singles, with “Bohemian Rhapsody” their greatest hit across the globe.
In 1991, Mercury passed away, yet his legacy lives on to this day. He was posthumously added to the Rock and Roll, Songwriters, and UK Music Halls of Fame. Critics, and probably all his fans, count him as one of the greatest rock-and-roll singers of all time.
2. Norah Jones
Geethali Norah Jones Shankar, who officially changed her name to Norah Jones at 16, was born in Manhattan, New York City. Her mother was a concert producer, while her father was Ravi Shankar, an Indian musician known for playing the sitar.
Jones grew up participating in band and choir in high school and studying jazz during the summer at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. She studied jazz, piano, and singing at the University of North Texas.
She worked as a lounge singer in New York before releasing her first album, Come Away With Me, in 2002. “Don’t Know Why” from the album topped charts and landed Jones not one, but three Grammy Awards. The album came away with two Grammys as well.
3. Jay Sean
Kamaljit Singh Jhooti, known professionally as Jay Sean, was born in London, England, to Indian Punjabi Sikh parents. Sean grew up in London and went to college to study medicine originally but soon left school to become a singer in 2003.
His debut album, Me Against Myself, appeared in 2004 and sold over 100,000 copies in the UK and over 2 million copies in India. In 2008, he was the first British and Asian male to sign with an American record label and the first Asian solo artist to hit #1 on the Billboard Top 100 (with his single “Down”).
Sean has won several UKK music awards and was the first artist with South Asian heritage to play at Madison Square Garden since Freddie Mercury and Queen.
4. Adnan Sami Khan
Composer, pianist and singer Adnan Sami Khan was born in London, England, to Pakistani-Indian parents. He earned a law degree in London and planned to work as a barrister, but his early love of music led him to a career of performing on the piano and singing.
The first single he released, “Run for His Life,” was in 1986 and was recorded for UNICEF. It hit #1 on the Middle East music charts, though he recorded it in English. He then began composing in 1994 for the Pakistani film Sargam, which has the best-selling soundtrack of all time in Pakistan.
Since the start of his career, Khan has become so popular, he sold out London’s Wembley Stadium for two nights in a row when performing there—the first music artist from the Asian region to do so.
5. Charli XCX
Born Charlotte Emma Aitchison to Scottish and Indian parents in Cambridge, England, Charli XCX grew up in Essex and started writing songs when she was a teen. Dedicated to the idea of recording an album, she convinced her parents to pay for the venture.
Charli XCX used MySpace, then a popular social media site, to get attention for her music. She signed her first recording contract in 2010 and hit the top 100 UK chart for the first time in 2013 with her album True Romance.
Her music became popular enough to open for music superstars Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. She has since been nominated for awards from Billboard, Grammy, NME, and other music organizations, landing quite a number of them.
Commonly known simply by her first name, Raveena Aurora was born in Queens, New York City, to parents who left India to flee Sikh persecution in 1984. She grew up in a household that followed Sikh tradition and eventually studied music at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts.
Raveena leveraged the internet to gain a following after her first EP’s release in 2017. Her style in creating music videos focuses on her Indian heritage, many of which she directed.
Both her debut album in 2019, Lucid, and her second one, Asha’s Awakening, in 2022 were met with critical acclaim. As a young music artist, Raveena has a great future ahead of her.
7. Shilpa Ray
Singer-songwriter Shilpa Ray grew up in an Indian-American household in New Jersey, where she wasn’t allowed to listen to rock and roll. Instead, she learned to play the harmonium and classical Indian singing styles.
Ray listened to rock CDs secretly and began making punk rock music containing curse words and rebellious lyrics. This eventually led her to form the bands Beat the Devil and then Happy Hookers before going solo in 2013.
Despite the punk rock genre of her music, the harmonium appears in her songs, creating an interesting mix of modern punk with classic Indian sounds. She cites that her musical influences were bands like the Stooges, Velvet Underground, and Joy Division.
8. Michael P. Raj (HOAX)
HOAX frontman Michael P. Raj was born to parents from India. He grew up reading the work of great authors and poets and wanted to bring something new to songwriting. He felt that beautiful melodies needed stronger lyrics to back them up.
In an accounting class at the Hofstra University, Raj met Frantz Cesar, a musician who formed HOAX, an indie pop band, with him. They later invited two more friends to complete the group.
Raj and the HOAX do not (yet) have a studio album released, but they have two EPs and several singles. “Indian Summer,” their second single, ranked #41 on Spotify’s UK Viral Top 50 chart.
Much of the music Raj writes and sings has hidden meanings and deeper themes than most pop and rock music. Sometimes, their songs are described as empathy pop, as most put a lot of emphasis on showing kindness to others.
9. Tommy Genesis
Rapper Genesis Yasmine Mohanraj, known professionally as Tommy Genesis, was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Swedish and Tamil parents.
She studied art in college, specifically sculpture and film, but went on to record rap in 2013. She has collaborated with artists like Dua Lipa and rapper M.I.A., and was part of the 2016 Calvin Klein campaign.
To date, Genesis has released several singles, a mixtape, and two studio albums. An up-and-coming rapper with a provocative style, The Guardian has called the young artist “one to watch.”
10. Sameer Gadhia (Young the Giant)
Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Indian parents who were classical musicians, Sameer Gadhia founded the group Young the Giant in 2004. He went to Stanford University to study medicine but left school to pursue a music career in 2009.
As frontman for Young the Giant, Gadhia helped lead the band to chart in the US for each of the three singles from their 2010 eponymous album, specifically “My Body,” “Apartment,” and “Cough Syrup.”
“My Body” appeared on American Idol, and they performed it on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Gadhia helped the band released four studio albums, and they regularly tour to perform their music live.
11. Usha Uthup
Frequently called Didi, Usha Uthup is a singer born to a Tamil family in Bombay, India. She is one of India’s most popular playback singers. who also sings pop and jazz.
She took an interest in classical music at an early age and sang in a nightclub in 1969. During the late 1960s, she began releasing pop songs and continued to do so well into the ’80s.
Uthup became one of the most well-known singers in India after “Darling.” The song was recorded for the film 7 Khoon Maaf. She won Best Female Playback Singer at the Filmfare Awards in 2012 for this.
The singer has also appeared in films as an actress and served as a music judge in seasons 2 and 3 of the competition show Bharat Ki Shaan: Singing Star.
12. Lata Mangeshkar
One of India’s most beloved and influential singers, Lata Mangeshkar was born in Indore, British India. Her father was an actor and classical singer, instilling a love of music in her when she was young.
He gave her music lessons, and this led her to work in her father’s musicals. Mangeshkar’s father passed away when she was 13. A close friend of the family, also the owner of a movie studio, helped her officially launch her career.
The hit song “Aayega Aanewaala” in 1949 helped lead her to become what many people call the Nightingale of India and the Queen of Melody.
13. Asha Bhosle
Born in Goar, British India, to musical parents, Asha Bhosle sang and took acting roles young to help support her family. Her debut in film, Majha Bal, was in 1943.
Other female playback singers were in high demand for movie-related songs in the ’60s, so Bhosle took the work on low-budget films they refused. A director who encouraged her to collaborate with Mohammed Rafi helped her gain wider recognition.
Since then, she has won multiple Indian music awards and had a busy career singing for films. In 2020, she launched a YouTube channel for fans to enjoy.
14. Mohammed Rafi
Indian musician and playback singer Mohammed Rafi is one of the most beloved singers in India, even over 40 years after his death.
He received multiple awards for his work on film soundtracks and became known for his ability to shift his voice to match the persona of the characters. Aside from Indian dialects, he recorded over 7,000 songs in several languages during his career.
Stardust Magazine named him the best singer of the millennium in 2001, while CNN-IBN called him Greatest Voice in Hindi Cinema.
In 1980, after a heart attack, the singer passed away. In honor of this Indian legend, specials often appear on Indian television to celebrate his birthday or commemorate the day he died.
15. Naomi Scott
Last on our list is Naomi Scott. She is an actress and singer born on Long Island to an English dad and a mom of Indian heritage.
Growing up in East London, Scott sang in her church when she was young and lists her earliest musical influences as R&B and gospel musicians like Kim Burrell.
Scott is better known as an actress, particularly in her role as Princess Jasmine in the musical live-action adaptation of the 1992 film Aladdin.
In the movie, she sings “Speechless” and “A Whole New World,” with the former song landing on #23 in the US Bubbling Under 100 chart.
Summing Up Our List Of Singers With Indian Heritage
As you can see, Indian singers represent many different styles, languages, and desires. Some artists like Rafi and Bhosle were popular during their time and opted to stay in India rather than aim for an international audience.
Others, like Mercury, wanted as large an audience as they could possibly get and became successful enough to be known worldwide.
No matter what your favorite musical genre is, you can find something to enjoy in the work of these great Indian singers.